Florida State doesn’t get a chance to ease into ACC play.
The No. 9 Seminoles (12-1) will be thrown into the deep end this weekend when they begin conference play at No. 2 Virginia (12-0).
It’s the 11th time in program history FSU will play in a Top-10 matchup, the first since January of 2017 and only the second in the last 26 years.
It’s a fitting way to begin the slate given the depth of the conference. Nine ACC teams were included in Joe Lunardi’s latest NCAA Tournament projection for ESPN.
“What makes this league so great — and I think I’ve been saying this the last four or five years — it’s the new ACC now,” FSU head coach Leonard Hamilton said.
“Every team that you play, regardless of who you’re playing or where you’re playing them at, you’re running into a really good team.”
While this is a true statement, the Cavaliers have become one of the most consistent teams in both the ACC and the country over the last few seasons.
Over the last five years, UVA has racked up a 73-17 record in ACC games.
Yes, the Hoos are still living down last March when they became the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed in NCAA Tournament history with their 74-54 loss to UMBC.
However, they return nearly all the pieces from last year’s team which finished 31-3 and 17-1 in ACC play and are one of four remaining unbeaten teams in Division-I college basketball again this year.
“Very seldom have you seen a team lose only one game in the league last year. 17-1 in the ACC, I’m still in awe of how you can do that when you take into consideration that in this league, if you’re not your best, you’re going to get upset,” Hamilton said.
“In their case, they’ve proven that their system works regardless of who they are. They keep coming back year in and year out and doing the same thing.”
For FSU, it will also prove to be a stark contrast of styles. While the Seminoles like to get out in transition and run an extremely fast offense, the Cavaliers look to slow things down.
They enter Saturday averaging 60.8 possessions per game. That’s the slowest tempo among all 353 Division-I teams this season.
“It’s going to be a test of each others’ will. With Virginia, they’re going to play their style of play regardless of the circumstances and it’s our job to play our style of play,” redshirt sophomore forward Mfiondu Kabengele said.
“Whoever is able to impose their will the most, whether it be dominating on the offensive glass and defensive glass, who does their stuff better than each other. For us, we get out in transition, we attack the rim, we drive and kick really well. Virginia has a really great pack-line defense, they take their time with their offense. I feel like this game is going to be a test of two different styles.”
Added Hamilton, “It’s no secret what they’re going to do. They’re just comfortable playing within themselves and the system that they have is probably the most effective system in the ACC consistently in the last five or six years…They’re probably the epitome of efficiency offensively and defensively with the way they play.”
FSU has proven able to win against UVA’s stingy defense in recent years. The all-time series is tied at 24 wins each, but the Seminoles have won two of the last three games against the Hoos.
The last time the two teams played in Charlottesville, the Seminoles used a final-possession three-pointer from Dwayne Bacon to knock off the No. 12 Cavaliers 60-58.
Last season in Tallahassee, FSU took a 10-point lead into halftime before the Cavaliers rallied to stay unbeaten in the ACC with a 59-55 victory.
“It’s a very slow-paced game. We’ve just got to keep doing what we do, transition, play defense,” senior center Christ Koumadje said of facing UVA.
“They’ve been successful for a long time so they’re definitely doing something good. We’ve just got to stick with what we do.”
While starting ACC play with a tough opponent is a challenge, it’s nothing new for these Seminoles.
Last year, FSU opened up ACC play at No. 4 Duke and battled throughout before falling 100-93.
The year before, FSU faced a string of six consecutive ranked opponents after opening against Wake Forest and finished a remarkable 5-1 in that stretch.
“We look forward to it. Ever since I’ve been here so far, we’ve always started ACC with the first couple games being pretty tough. Now it’s just something that you’re kind of used to,” junior point guard Trent Forrest said.
“Just got to be able to flip that switch now. It’s serious from here on out really and you’re getting everybody’s best shot every game.”
No. 9 Florida State at No. 2 Virginia
When: Saturday, 3 p.m.
Where: John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, Virginia
TV/Radio: ESPN2/103.1 FM